Politely put, Providence shaped up

  • Article by: JIM PAULSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 17, 2011 - 9:24 PM

Opponents size up the Lions and think they can be physical with them. That's just the way Providence likes it.

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Providence Academy running back Marshall Klitzke (shown at practice) shined in the quarterfinals vs. Perham, scoring three second-quarter touchdowns.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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The football players from Providence Academy, a 10-year-old Catholic Prep School in Plymouth, come across as polite young men who look you straight in the eye when they talk and answer questions with "yes sir" and "no sir."

And they take the football field in their Notre Dame-like uniforms and smack their opponents in the mouth and hope they get smacked back.

Enviable social graces not withstanding, the Lions pride themselves on being able to take a hit and respond just a little bit harder. That's a big reason a program fielding only its sixth varsity team in school history is one game from playing for a state championship.

"People always underestimate us," coach Nate Harrington said. "They think we are, for lack of a better word, cake-eaters. We expect that. But we're a physical team. That's how we've gotten this far."

Their success is rooted in how they responded to two notable and recent failures: a loss to Holy Family Catholic in the 2010 section playoffs and a lopsided season-opening loss St. Croix Lutheran, their opponent in Saturday's Class 3A semifinal game.

"Those games," said senior linebacker Phifer Nicholson, "showed us what our level of commitment needed to be to play with those teams."

The Lions left no approach to improvement unexplored, whether it was traditional weightlifting or more unconventional ideas like four-day-a-week kickboxing classes.

The preparation worked. Providence Academy players cite conditioning as the No. 1 reason for their progression from a team that had won only one playoff game in school history to one of the few still playing this late in the season.

"I am so much better now than I was last year," senior cornerback Sam Pellegrene said. "I'm in the best shape of my life."

Saturday's quarterfinal victory over Perham was the Lions' season in a nutshell. The Yellowjackets came out in a belligerent mood, determined to beat Providence physically.

It worked -- for about one quarter. Providence, showing it can give as well as it gets, trailed 6-0 early but took control of the game with a 21-point second quarter, all on short, bruising touchdown runs by relentless running back Marshall Klitzke.

Like a distance runner who sets too fast a pace, Perham had little left to mount a comeback.

"We like it when teams underestimate us," Nicholson said. "Teams think we're soft and it gives us more motivation to show they're wrong."

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